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Locals Oppose Vacant Property Registry Ordinance Draft

Four out of five multi-property owners told Havre City Council Tuesday night they opposed what could become the city’s vacant property registry ordinance.

“I don’t know if this if this is the right thing. To me it feels wrong,” Jeff Ralph said.

Ralph owns McDonald’s on First Street and other properties in Havre, including the Simon Pepin house on Third Street and Fourth Avenue, which he’s been renovating.

Caleb Hutchins, a member of the Vacant Properties Ad-Hoc Committee, presented the first draft of a VPRO during Tuesday’s meeting.

It has been nearly two years since the vacant properties committee was put together and began researching how best to wipe away some of Havre’s blight. The draft includes five sections: purpose, definitions, vacant building registration, fees, and exemptions.

The proposed VPRO concerned most property owners and investors who commented.

Ralph told Hutchins that just the possibility of a VPRO has already deterred him from buying property he’d been eyeing. Ralph also believes there are already enough ordinances and laws in place to accomplish what the VPRO is supposed to.

A repeated sentiment among property owners was that the exceptions in the VPRO would probably not be good enough. Kurt Johnson, Brad Lotton, and Debi Rhines expressed the same concern: Renovation projects cost money and take time– a VPRO, espeically its fee requirement, would only add to the challenges of such projects.

Lotton of Lotton Construction said he and other fellow property owners were, indeed, working on their projects, “just not quickly,” adding that the ordinance would just add more government bureaucracy.

Pictured: Discussion over the proposed vacant property registry ordinance during Tuesday night’s Havre City Council meeting. (Paul Dragu, The Havre Herald)

Havre’s Public Works director, Dave Peterson, also voiced concerns, mainly with how to pay a VPRO enforcement officer.

The potential money made from fees would probably not be enough to support a part time, much less a full time, VPRO enforcement officer, Peterson said.

Enforcing the VPRO would not be like enforcing a weed ordinance. Judging by the five-part draft, it would be a more involved job. Who’s doing that job and where is that money coming from? Peterson asked.

Hutchins said there were between 12 to 24 properties that would certainly fit the definition of a vacant property, most of which are known and would not require much work to uncover and define.

Not all the property owners were displeased with the VPRO.

Marc Whitacre, who bought and renovated The 305 building and Havre Historic Post Office (and also happens to be on the vacant properties committee) said the VPRO would nudge owners to repair their properties faster, or if they can’t or don’t want to, it would prompt people to sell to someone who could and would do exactly that.

He asked the council to think of what downtown would look like if his two buildings had remained vacant.

Whitacre commented later that the difference between he and some property owners opposed to the proposed VPRO is that his family actually lives  in the properties they invest in.

Another proponent of the VPRO, Samantha Clawson-Hutchins, said she lives very close to a dilapidated, vacant property (she was referring to the derelict 12-unit gray apartments on Fifth Avenue). In addition to the blight, which devalues the homes nearby, there are safety concerns with such properties, she added. Clawson-Hutchins played a vital role in spearheading what led to the vacant properties committee in April 2017,

Hutchins wants to address the concerns he heard Tuesday night and move forward.

“I plan on talking to some of the property owners who had concerns or suggestions,” Hutchins said. “I’ll probably end up making some amendments to the exemptions section, and I’ll bring it back to the ordinance committee in the near future.”

If the next draft passes the VPRO committee, it would then go to the city attorney for vetting. And if there are no legal concerns, it would go before the council. The council would have two readings and there would be two opportunities for public comment.

If the council votes in favor of the VPRO, it would go into the effect.

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I think people have to be held accountable for the properties condition and safety of others yes I am a realtor I have clients who buy these subprime properties and do rehab them. it does take time to do the renovations . on the other hand we have some people who bleed their properties money wise and never put a repair into them and people are living in substandard housing. it is very sad to see them take property values down or try to sell a home with surrounding subprime properties. they are not safe and can turn people away from relocating here be it to buy a home or start a business

  2. Anonymous

    I feel property owners should be required to upkeep property, why would a homeowner be required to upkeep property to safe standards. Yet these people with dilapidated property are considered not a issue. If they want stuff to look like that and not make any efforts they should be fined. At a percentage of market value the land it sits on is potentially worth. Also if they leave derelict remove utilities and offer no city services like fire. Make them carry insurance at a higher rate. Some of these are properties are beyond reasonable fixing, they should just tear down and rebuild. I mean where is the city taking responsibility andctelling them hey that building is condemned.

  3. Anonymous

    I say go for the VPRO….there are too many buildings in town that decrease the other property’s value. They’re an eyesore and they need to be dealt with!

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